Valeria Arevalo doesn’t count calories on Sundays and for a good reason.
“Calories make me happy, and Jesus wants to see me happy,” said Arevalo, a redshirt senior on the University of West Alabama tennis team, with a laugh.
The other days of the week, she eats healthy, preparing nutritious vegetables, her favorite foods to cook, in many of the ways she learned in her native Cali, Colombia.
But it’s her serving on the court that has garnered attention and made her one of the Tigers’ best players.
“Valeria is a great competitor and team player. She has been a great addition to our team, not only as a player but as a leader on and off the court,” said Jeff Beaman, head men’s and women’s tennis coach at UWA. “She’s been a huge asset to the team and UWA community.
“This year (2021 season) we can compete for a (Gulf South) conference championship and be top 10 in the nation, and I feel Valeria’s work ethic, practice attitude and support of teammates is a big part of this,” Beaman said.
‘Giving her all’
A transfer from Eastern Florida State College, Arevalo was 5–3 in singles and 4–2 in doubles during the COVID-shortened 2020 season.
“She had some great wins,” Beaman said. “She always competes, giving her all.”
While hard work, commitment and passion to the sport have made an impact, so has her faith.
“Val is my strongest Christian/spiritual influence on the team,” said teammate Morgan Bishop, a senior from Muscle Shoals. “She leads herself in a godly example that makes me want to be better and do better. She encourages in a Christian way.”
Arevalo, 22, prays God will be with her during matches. She asks God to help her physically, mentally, technically and tactically.
“People that succeed in tennis have perfected those four aspects,” she said.
Bishop added, “I am confident watching her play or playing with her because her mentality is so strong.
“She finds the zone and stays in the zone and it is very hard to break her concentration.”
Arevalo’s forehand is a big part of her game. After the 2020 season, Arevalo was named a Division 2 Scholar Athlete by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association.
Arevalo’s sportsmanship also is evident. Her parents and tennis taught her to have good manners, she said.
“A lot of people recognize how polite I am on the court.”
Before her first year at Eastern Florida, Arevalo began learning “little by little” about Christ.
Her sister, Nataly Jiménez, a dentist in Colombia, and mother, Luz Marina Parra, led her to Christ, showing how she can apply the Bible to her life.
While her prayers were sporadic, she began to take her faith more seriously, especially as she faced personal struggles like her parents’ divorce.
“My mom committed to Jesus. My daddy (Emiro Arevalo) is a very strict Catholic and didn’t agree [with her conversion], so they had many problems,” Arevalo said.
She learned the power of prayer when she tore the cartilage in her right shoulder in 2017 while a student at Eastern Florida.
She had surgery and underwent months of rehab, but the experience helped her reprioritize.
“God showed me that tennis was not the most important thing in my life,” Arevalo said. “I could live without tennis but not without God. I can still have passion doing it without having to put it in first place.”
Once “obsessed” with being a professional tennis player, she told God she now wants to do what He created her to do.
“I wanted to set aside my preferences and trust Him and rely on Him to show me what is the best for my future,” she said.
One of Arevalo’s biggest dreams when she came to college in the U.S. was to help her parents economically.
At Eastern Florida, she had only a partial scholarship. She began praying that God would provide a full scholarship. West Alabama did.
‘God started providing’
Then she began praying about a job. She wanted to start tithing and learning how to manage money in a way that would honor God.
She soon got a job tutoring UWA students in biology, kinesiology and anatomy.
“God started providing a lot. He was blessing me, and … I am learning how to manage finances based on the Bible,” she said.
Active in Fellowship of Christian Athletes on campus, Arevalo leads a Bible study with teammates, soccer players and volleyball players so others can learn who Christ is.
While Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” is her favorite verse, she thrives on Colossians 3:23: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not merely for people.”
“I have a huge passion for everything I do — job, school, tennis, following Christ,” Arevalo said. “I am going to do my best because that pleases the Lord.”
Arevalo shares her story to help others know how Jesus can change someone’s life.
“It would be impossible for me to tell my story without Him in it,” she said.